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Thursday, 31 January 2008

Frolicking in Füssen: Part two - The Kässpätzle

There's definitely something about clean cold air that makes you hungry all the time. Especially when you've been busy hiking about in the woods and taking in amazing views, then rewarding yourself with refreshing German ale. Oh, life can be so rough.

What better way to finish off the day than with some hardcore German stodge. With discussions of Lily and I going vegan for a month, my heart fluttered as Nicky listed the ingredients of Kässpätzle to me.

"Lots of butter, eggs, onions, flour and three types of cheese. You don't skimp on the fat stuff"

Kässpätzle translates to 'cheesy sparrows' in English. Although I reckon a more appropriate name would be 'big coronary'. Cholesterol aside, one of the most interesting things about this dish is how it is made. You need a contraption called a Spätzle Hobel, which looks like a holey mandolin without the razor sharp finger-slicing capability. Another thing I really liked was the teamwork involved in getting it all together. It took four of us to make it happen, one slicing and frying the onions, another grating cheese, and two on Spätzle duty. It just makes it so much more satisfying when you're all chowing down on it together. Go Team Kässpätzle!

What you need
A Spätzle Hobel
Eggs (1 egg for every 100 grams of flour)
sifted flour (we used about 1 kg)
A few big pinches of salt
white pepper
10 onions, mixture of red and white - sliced roughly
a big pat of butter
3 wedges of your favourite melting cheese, grated (Emmental, Romadur, Bavarian Bergkase or a little bit of Gorganzola wouldn't go astray too)

The do
Heat the oven to about 150 degrees C and preheat the biggest and deepest baking dish you have (you will need depth of at least 12cm).
Sift flour into the biggest bowl you have. Break eggs into the flour, add a few pinches of salt and mix hard with a wooden spoon, slowly adding milk until you achieve a runny cement-like consistency with doughy bubbles bursting on the surface. Let it drop from the spoon - if it clings to itself as it falls, it's just right.
Set aside.

Put a big pot of salted water to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Grab a big fry pan, throw in a big chunk of butter (about 3 tablespoons worth) and when melted, add the onions. Fry until dark and soft. Remove from heat.

Take out the baking tray and melt half a tennis ball's worth of butter. Do not skimp on the butter. Return to oven.

Position your Spätzle Hobel over the barely simmering water, pour some mixture into it and glide it back and forth.
The little balls will drop out the bottom into the water. Stir them up with a slotted spoon to keep them from sticking to the bottom.
When the pot starts to look crowded, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the baking dish in the oven, taking care to drain off all excess water. Sprinkle a generous layer of cheese and some of the fried onion over the top, season with white pepper and return to the oven.

Keep repeating this process until you are out of onion and dough, but make sure you reserve some cheese and onion for the very last layer.
When it's all done. Put it all back in the oven and bake at about 200 degrees C for about 40 minutes, don't forget to check it occasionally.

Serve with a crunchy salad with some bitter leaves like endive or rocket and a good German beer. There should be enough for five hungry people with a little bit extra.

This dish may cause drowsiness. Avoid driving and operating heavy machinery.

* Big thanks to the lovely Leanne, Nicky and Kim for sharing their home with us for four days and showing us such a fantastic time!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Frolicking in Füssen: Part one

Last weekend I found myself in Füssen, Bavaria, wading round in an outdoor spa complex with naked Germans. I won't go into too much detail about that, but I can tell you that the beer was fantastic and the fresh air was delicious.

A few Füssen foodie notes:

* Whilst making home fries for the gang one morning, I peeled this bulb of garlic, only to discover that there where no separate segments. IT WAS ONE GIANT CLOVE.

* Could this be the most elaborately sliced cucumber I have ever seen?

* Lily often gives me a hard time over my obsession with kitchen gadgets, but check this puppy out! It's a fold-away bread slicer with adjustable blade so you can choose how thick or thin you want your bread to be. Amazing.

Stay tuned for Frolicking in Füssen: Part two, where Nicky shows me how Kasspatzen is made...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Füssen: Part one

Last weekend we visited our friends Kim, Leanne and Nicky in the beautiful town of Füssen, Bavaria.
With the snow melting away, (damn global warming!) we were unable to partake in winter activities such as snowboarding or ice skating - but a few breathtaking hikes and a lot of eating made up for it.

A few Füssen foodie notes:

* Whilst making home fries for the gang one morning, I peeled this bulb of garlic, only to discover that there where no separate segments. IT WAS ONE GIANT CLOVE.

* Could this be the most elaborately sliced cucumber I have ever seen?

* Lily often gives me a hard time over my obsession with kitchen gadgets, but I think even she would be impressed with this puppy...

Stay tuned for Füssen: Part two, where Nicky shows me how Kasspatzen is made...

Saturday, 26 January 2008

vote for your dinner

The wonderful Ms Tea has made us contenders in the 2008 Blogger's Choice Awards. Our initial humble surprise has given way to the kind of ruthless competitiveness Hillary can only dream about. We are blatantly crawling for votes from all three thousand... oh wait make that three... of our regular readers. Register and vote here. The gum on our unmarked envelopes is ready and waiting to be moistened so let us know your price.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Real big spinach

In a world where baby spinach in chemical air sacks reigns supreme, it sure is nice to find spinach that has lived a full life (even if it was the only thing I got from the market this week because of my Sunday tardiness...)

grab sunday by the sweet and curlies

I love these Sundays: lazy, vague, dreamy, mine to spend poking and scuffing around a cold and woolly city. And with the dark drawing in so early, time to see out the weekend with a slow, long meal.

It makes sense that, as winter really kicks, all the seasonal vegetables go underground and look like shit. I picked up a knobbly load of them at the Islington Farmer's Market yesterday - Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, giant parsnip - and put them to good use in a variation of Chew's Artichoke Bake. As good as I remember it the first time around, this really is a proper, rich and silky mid-winter Sunday dinner (I included parsnip, leek and celeriac between artichoke and potato layers - with parmesan and fresh peas on top for added crunch).

While waiting for the root bake, I made the following sweet and nutty plate of yummy goodness to sit alongside it.

Sweet Curly Kale and Beets

1 small onion, grated
2 bunches of kale (wash the leaves, rip them off their spines and chop them well)
1 beetroot - peeled and cut into sticks
1 small handful of toasted pine nuts and slivered almonds
1 teaspoon of honey
1 splash of orange blossom water (if you have it)
4-6 dates, chopped
salt, oil and butter

Melt a chunk of butter in a few good glugs of oil. On low heat, soften the grated onion. When it is getting sticky (6-8 minutes), add the chopped dates. Let it all caramelise slowly, stirring regularly. Add the chopped kale with a pinch of salt then cover and cook on a low heat (add a little water if it dries out too much). When the kale has softened and wilted, add the beetroot sticks and toasted nuts. Cook for five minutes then add your teaspoon of honey and dash of orange blossom water. Cook for another five minutes and let it all cool down for a bit before you fill up on some sweet joy.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

A good old English pie 'n' mash - Linda's way

I just realised that I haven't seen sunlight for four days. And you know what the temperature is in my home town right now? 42 degrees! Man o man - I should be frolicking in the sea and complaining about the heat, not trudging back and forth to work in the freezing wind under the cover of darkness like it's some covert operation.
Homesickness. It's a cruel thing this time of year - and when it feels like it'll never stop raining, only two words make it all A-OK...comfort food.
This is by no means gourmet (it involves frozen goods AND instant gravy) but the beauty of it is that it is fast and the key components are sitting there ready for when you need that comfort fix.

Linda's Pies with mash, peas and mushroom gravy

What you need

(Serves 2)
Linda McCartney vegetarian pies or any other vegetarian pie you can get your mitts on
greens (I used Curly kale)
2 small handfuls of frozen petit pois peas
Potatoes for mashing (approx 1 medium sized potato per person)
handful of thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms
1 finely diced celery stalk
gravy granules, mixed according to instructions (I used a vegan one from Holland and Barrett)
a few sprigs of thyme
soy milk
olive oil

The do
Preheat oven and baking tray.
Place potatoes in a big pot and cover with cold water. If you are impatient like me, cut potatoes into quarters so they cook faster. Add a little salt and boil until you can stick a skewer through without any resistance.

Get out your Linda's pies and stab a knife into the top a few times (this will prevent the pies from spewing out their insides once they get hot) and brush with some soy milk. Sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds. Throw the pies onto the hot tray and bake at about 180 degrees for about 30-45 mins or until the crust is golden and crunchy and the filling heated through.

While the potatoes and pies are cooking, get out a small saucepan and on a medium heat, fry the celery and mushrooms and thyme in a splash of oil. Add a handful of peas per person. After a few minutes, add the gravy mixture then turn down to the lowest heat setting.

When the potatoes are done, mash in the pot on the lowest heat setting with lots of good olive oil, pepper and salt. Add hot soy milk until you achieve your desired consistency. Take off the heat and cover until needed.

In another pot bring some water to the boil and throw in the chopped greens briefly, be careful not to overcook them. Drain.

Arrange it all on a warmed plate, making a crater in centre of the potato for a pea/gravy lake.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Playing Chicken

I'm the first to say that freeview TV is a whole load of rubbish, but Hugh's Chicken Run is the most riveting television I have seen in a long while. (Obviously, I would prefer it if chickens weren't eaten at all - but sparing a thought for what poor Foghorn Leghorn has had to go through to make it onto your fork is a step the right direction, I suppose)

Kudos to you Hugh!

Monday, 7 January 2008

wet lunch

Thank goodness for the Noodle King on a tired, miserable, cold, rainy, funky, hungover Monday in January.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

holidays at home

Aside from being bombarded with every single minute detail of the American presidential election until November, 2008 already looks to be throwing some fine shapes: next month alone I'll be eating my way through Fes and Italy. I happily saw out 07 in London (the capital is quite endearing when there's no one in it) and, unlike Chew, with no Christmas dinner duties I had time to venture to markets out of my hood and indulge in some lingering home cooking.

The Slow Food Market on the South Bank on December 23rd was light on for action (perhaps unsurprisingly). But the mushroom man from Stoke Newington's Farmers' Market was there and I picked up a huge bag of mixed wild mushies to accompany a gnocchi recipe from Chew's fab birthday pressie last year, Antonio Carluccio's Complete Mushroom Book.

Gnocchi with Horn

I'm not kidding, that's what Carluccio calls this recipe. He is referring to the type of mushroom - Horn of Plenty - but any wild ones will taste so delicious that eating it may very well give you the horn.

For the gnocchi
800g floury potatoes, peeled and chopped for boiling
200g plain flour
1 beaten egg

For the sauce
Loads of fresh, clean wild mushies (he says 500g mix of Horn of Plenty and Chicken of the Woods, I chucked in a big mixed bag)
20g dried ceps or other dried wild mushrooms
Olive Oil
30g butter (the recipe says 55g but I thought it was a little rich)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
150ml dry white wine
A handful of chopped fresh parsley
Freshly grated parmesan

Making it

Boil and drain the potatoes, making sure all water is steamed off (let them dry out a bit over the heat if you want). Mash them finely - roughly by hand and then in a food processor if necessary. Mix with the flour and beaten egg on your bench and roll into a dough. Keep loads of flour on hand because the dough is quite sticky. Roll out into sausages and cut into desired chunks (about 2 x 2.5 cm). Leave to rest on a clean, floured cloth.

For the sauce, chop all the mushrooms into strips. Soak the dried ones for 20 minutes then chop them finely, reserving the water. Melt the butter in olive oil then fry the chopped onion on a low heat to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook slowly for about 15 minutes. Add some of the dried mushroom water and the wine and reduce for another ten minutes. Just before serving, mix in the parsley, some salt and lots of cracked pepper.

Cook the gnocchi dumplings in salted boiling water until they float to the surface then chuck them in the sauce.

Shake it all about, add some parmesan and dig in.